Anti-choice protestors are increasing in intensity and expanding their presence in the Alabama city of Huntsville. For over a year, they've staked out the Alabama Women's Center and provided sidewalk counseling that takes the form of prayers (through a bullhorn), shouting, graphic signs, and songs (like the unforgettable hit, "Happy Birthday, Dead Baby").
In spite of this, the clinic has remained open, aided by a group of local heroes we profiled a few weeks ago:
Twice a week, on a sidewalk near the downtown area, a group of heroes meets in Huntsville, AL. Rain or shine, hot or cold, they gather to support strangers who are making one of the most personal and difficult decisions of their lives. And they do this service for free, as volunteers who work in the face of verbal and even physical harrassment from anti-choice protestors.
So naturally, the anti-choice extremists have moved along to what they consider to be somewhat softer targets: local hospitals and doctors' offices.
Crestwood Hospital was their destination on Saturday, and it was heavily advertised with press releases and even billboards scattered about the city:
Anti-abortion leader James Henderson will hold a "prayer vigil for the unborn" Saturday morning near the main entrance to Crestwood Medical Center.
Henderson, a Morgan County pastor and executive director of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, is inviting "concerned Christians from all church backgrounds" to join him at 9:30 a.m. at the corner of Airport Road and One Hospital Drive in south Huntsville.
He said in a news release that the group will pray for Crestwood to remove from its medical staff two doctors who perform abortions at a Huntsville women's clinic.
Attendance was, well.... limited, as pro-choice organizer Pamela Wills Watters reported:
"The anti-abortion protesters at Crestwood Hospital didn't have a very good turnout at all...maybe 50 or so & they stayed their hour & left. They have more than that at the clinic on Saturday mornings for an hour. We had about 25 pro-choice warriors, plus our big "Pro-choice Y'all" banners. We were much more visible.
Can't help but wonder if they'll be any more "successful" when they demonstrate in front of Ed White Middle School. Anti-choice organizers James Henderson and John Phillip of the Knights of Columbus obtained a permit to picket a local doctor's office. Problem is, there's no sidewalk in front of the office, so they selected the next "best" spot: the sidewalk across the street — that just happens to be directly in front of a public school.
She is a physician at the clinic and Henderson had already threatened to protest her private practice to "shame" her into quitting. Get this.... their permit is from 9-5 Monday - Friday for the sidewalk at Ed White Middle School!! There is no sidewalk on the side of the road that Dr. Robinson's office is on, so they obtained it for across the street. I don't think the parents and faculty are going to appreciate that. I would imagine that the superintendent's office is going to be getting a lot of calls.
I have so much admiration for Watters and the other committed people in her group. It's like they're constantly playing "whack-a-mole" all across the city. But they certainly found a way to "make lemonade." Recently, the group began an "adopt-an-anti" fundraiser. You can select your favorite protestor and donate a certain amount each week if he/she shows up. The price goes up if they yell through a bullhorn, cry, or wear a poor copy of a WWII concentration camp outfit (not kidding!). On Wednesday, they earned over $100 in pledged donations.
Why do they do it?
Chuck Miller is a regular volunteer escort and has spoken publicly numerous times in support of choice. He gave permission to share his viewpoint:
I have been privileged to serve as an escort at the clinic and have made several observations from conversations I have had with clients and their husbands and boyfriends. Other than to offer a word of support, escorts do not ask clients for their stories, but sometimes they want to talk and we will listen and support them. From those conversations we have seen:
1. The anti-abortion protesters are completely ineffective. Of all the women who came for an abortion, only one that I spoke to changed her mind and it was not because of the protesters. She was being pressured to have an abortion by the father. She chose not to have the abortion for her own reasons and we encourage choice, not abortion. That is a fact that the protesters refuse to acknowledge.
2. Some of the more vocal protesters claim they are engaged in a civil rights struggle. Nothing could be further from the truth. Civil Rights advocates are always working to extend the rights of individuals. Anti-abortion protesters are trying to take away rights recognized by the courts and that are a matter of law.
3. The majority of the anti-abortion protesters are old white men, the same kind of men who have lived lives of unexamined privilege making them incapable of relating to the choices women have to make. It is obvious that they make no effort to understand that, while on the other hand, we see women who were formally on the so-called “Pro-life” side coming to the clinic when they or their daughters are faced with that choice.
Thanks to all the people who care enough to put themselves out there — literally on street corners — to protect the rights of women in Alabama.